Ski Knuckle Huck
Contested for the very first time at a Winter X Games, the brand-new Ski Knuckle Huck event showcased creative freestyle moves off the Big Air ramp’s roll-over, also called the ‘knuckle’. Instead of huge airs, the focus lies with creativity, fast turns, and unique combos in a 20-minute jam session.
The crowd was in for creative freestyle ski at its best. What’s more, the field of eight finalists could not have been more diverse as it combined Big Air experts next to park skiers and urban terrain specialists otherwise only competing in the X Games ‘Real Ski’ series (as opposed to big-ticket live events like this).
As the session got underway under the floodlights, one rider stood out as the crowd favorite: Monster Energy’s Henrik Harlaut from Sweden brought his creative approach and a big bag of tricks to the battle. Plus, the stakes are high for Harlaut at this X Games, as he can make history by claiming his 12th medal at X Games, the most ski medals held by any rider in history.
But Harlaut was in for a huge surprise.
The five-time Big Air gold medalist started with a spectacular new trick creation; a nose press into a switch frontflip/540, which he dubbed the ‘Griselda Flip’ on live camera. But right from the start, Harlaut suddenly faced heat from his Monster Energy teammate, 22-year-old Colby Stevenson from Park City, Utah, who clinched the lead with a technical left 540 into a switch butter 720 Japan out in his first start at an X Games.
Harlaut fired back with lofty style and a switch left 180 to nose butter cork 1080, but Stevenson retained the upper hand by sending a switch left 360 into 180 into tail butter 900 stale fish that cemented his first-place position on the leaderboard. When it all came down to the last attempt of the session, Harlaut knew he needed something big: A switch left 180 to nose butter double cork 1080 – potentially the trick of the night – looked destined to seal the victory, but Harlaut lost the handle on the landing.
And just like that, X Games rookie Colby Stevenson took gold in the shape of a stylized brass knuckle chain (get it, ‘knuckle’) in the winner-takes-all event.
“This feels unreal! I have been dreaming of this since I was a kid. To be out here with all of my best friends sending it over the knuckle is too good to be true,” said Colby Stevenson upon winning gold in his X Games debut at Aspen 2020 on Thursday night. Watch closely when the US Ski Team member, who one week ago finished third in Slopestyle at the Ski Slopestyle World Cup in Seiser Alm, Italy, returns in Men’s Ski Big Air and Men’s Ski Slopestyle this weekend.
With Henrik Harlaut in second place, another Monster Energy rider claimed third place in what would have been a full podium sweep (except Ski Knuckle Huck only awards one gold medal): Rookie pro and Park City local Quinn Wolferman came through with a mix of technical finesse and amplitude. Wolferman’s best hucks over the knuckle include switch left 180 into a nollie misty 720, left 540 into a switch backflip 180 and a switch left 180 to nose butter cork 1080 that left an impression on the high-energy crowd.
Men’s Snowboard SuperPipe
Next, it was time for Monster Energy Men’s Snowboard SuperPipe with eight of the world’s best freestyle snowboarders attacking the 600-foot long halfpipe and its 22-foot high walls. As a major change this year, riders were no longer scored on their single best run of the final, but on overall impressions in a new 35-minute jam session format.
However, the biggest rivalry of the night was nothing new.
Monster Energy’s Yuto Totsuka from Yokohama, Japan, went head-to-head against Australia’s Scotty James. The two riders had just finished a close showdown at the 2020 Laax Open in Switzerland with James taking the win, Totsuka coming in second. This had also been the outcome in the last six contests the two had entered, while Totsuka won two FIS World Cup events that James had missed.
With the new jam format and a huge bag of technical tricks, Totsuka came into Thursday night’s final ready to settle the score. As the youngest rider in the comp, Totsuka took an early lead with a perfect run featuring frontside double cork 1260 mute, backside 900 mute, frontside 1080, Cab 1080 mute, and frontside 1080 tail grab. But straight out the gate, Scotty James reclaimed the top spot.
Staying close on the Australian’s heels, Yuto Totsuka cranked up the level of trick difficulty by opening his run with a high-flying frontside double cork 1440 mute followed by a Cab 1080 nose/tail grab combo. As Scotty James kept rifling off difficult tricks in the final, Totsuka inched closer by adding technical bangers like Cab 1260 double grab and switch backside 1080 to his flawless runs with airs topping out at 15’9” in the air.
But ultimately, James left with his winning streak still intact, as Yuto Totsuka walked away with a strong silver-medal finish.
Keep a close eye on Yuto Totsuka. The reigning Japanese national halfpipe champion now holds two X Games silver medals and is a certified podium threat despite his young age. The 18-year-old has proven he can win contests with victories at FIS Snowboard World Cups in Calgary and Mammoth Mountain in Spring 2019. He also claimed third place at the 2019 Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships and currently ranks second on the FIS Snowboard Halfpipe World Cup leaderboards. He will be gunning for Best Trick gold in Friday night’s Snowboard SuperPipe Session.
Women’s Snowboard Big Air
Capping off a big first day at X Games Aspen 2020, the Pacifico Women’s Snowboard Big Air made history in a clash of rookies versus veterans – and a strong influx of Japanese talent. Eight of the world’s best women freestyle snowboarders came to send their most technical aerials over the massive 70-foot long snow jump after dropping in from a 65-foot scaffold.
In a change similar to Snowboard Superpipe, the Women’s Snowboard Big Air contest also moved to a 35-minute jam format scored on overall impression for the first time this year. It’s a real game-changer. Winners are no longer decided based on a cumulative score of their best left- and right-turning tricks. It now takes strategy and versatile tricks to come out on top.
In this new format, Monster Energy’s Kokomo Murase had what it takes to rise to the podium. Although the youngest competitor at 15 years of age, the Japanese snowboarding prodigy approached her Big Air final with confidence and foresight of a veteran. As her opening trick, Murase popped a backside 900 tail grab over the gap, followed by a technical backside 1080 mute on her next attempt.
Showing her versatile trick repertoire, Murase landed a double under-flip before putting down a perfect backside double cork 1260 mute, a trick she landed as the first girl ever in competition at X Games Norway 2018. For her last trick, Kokomo Murase chose a frontside double cork 1080 to earn a strong silver-medal finish, her third X Games Big Air medal (1 gold, 2 silver) in just as many appearances.
Murase finished closely behind fellow Japanese snowboarder Miyabi Onitsuka taking the win. With Reira Iwabuchi in third, the three athletes made history as the first all-Japanese podium in X Games history. Murase already counts among the upcoming riders to watch on the international snowboard big air circuit and claimed second place at the recent Big Air Atlanta event a few weeks before X Games Aspen 2020.
Last but not least, the latest addition to the Monster Energy snowboarding team also made a strong impression on day one: 18-year-old Zoi Sadowski-Synnott from Wanaka, New Zealand, brought her A-game to the big jump. Hitting the jump with a backside 900 mute, switch backside 900 double cork, and a fast-spinning frontside 900 brought the newcomer within inches of a podium spot and earned her a fourth-place finish. Watch out for the rookie as she returns alongside Kokomo Murase and teammate Jamie Anderson in Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle on Saturday.